Chapter 8 of “Mental” by Marie K Johnston

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Chapter Eight

Sometimes I wish that it was still fashionable to put people in mental institutions permanently. I think that would be better for Eve in a lot of ways.  She’d have to either deal with things the way they are, or really go insane.  I’m pretty sure she’d eventually choose to deal with things.  Out here, she just continues to get worse.  I think she has too much freedom.  I mean, she’s been getting back pay for the past three months from that school she worked at, and that hasn’t helped a bit.  It’s just been getting paid to get worse.  She has too much free time, too much thinking time.  I think it’s made her worse.  I don’t know what to do with her.  She just stays in bed all day, sometimes crying, sometimes just staring at the ceiling.  She only perks up if Sam or Chloe or Jacob or somebody comes by to see her or take her out.  She’s just feeling sorry for herself, I know that she doesn’t have a real medical condition; but still, I wish that we could put her in an institution to make her wake up.

Oh, and did I tell you?  They found her up there with a book of Robert Frost poems, for chrissakes.  That stupid chrissakes poem, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”  The thought of it makes me want to puke.  She believed in that damn poem, thought it was the chrissakes gospel.  She’s so pathetic.  I took away all of her poetry.  It just makes her cry, and I told her that Sam and I decided that she can have it back when she comes back, which just made her cry and roll over in her bed and pretend to be asleep until I left the room.  I stashed the box of books at one of my friends’ houses, so she’ll never find them. I feel like a bastard, but whatever.  Maybe she’ll get mad enough at me to get out of bed.

I remember one day, she came stomping into the apartment, fuming.  She walked past me and two of my friends who had come over to study for a big anthropology test we were having the next day, and she ran to the kitchen.  Throwing the refrigerator door open, she rummaged around in there, muttering “87…87…what the hell do they know?” over and over.  Finally, her face emerged from the fridge, and with beer in hand, she just stood there looking pissed and triumphant, slugging it down.  She was pretending to ignore us, I think, standing there reading stuff we had on the fridge—old recipes, articles, fortunes from late-night Chinese food binges, whatever.  Finally, I cleared my throat, not being able to stand her new mantra anymore, hoping that she’d shut up because my friends already thought she was a loon.

“Eve,” I implored, “we’re trying to study.  Shut the hell up!”

“Tell me, y’all, you know a lot about experiments, right?  The scientific method?”

We all just nodded, and I thought, here we go.

“Okay, then…explain this: I was feeling pretty good today, and then I took this frigging test at my doctor’s, and it’s a stupid 1 through 4 thing where you chrissakes numbers to your feelings because isn’t that so scientific, and on a scale of 100, I’m an 87 according to the stupid test.”

“What was the test for, Eve?” asked my friend Susan.

“Suicidal depression.”

“Oh,” said my friend Joanne.

 

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Eve just took another swig of beer, grabbed the rest of the six-pack, and went out on the porch to smoke herself to death.  She’s a chain-smoker, sometimes, like I said earlier.  This was one of those times.  We just kept studying.  

Sneaking reads at her journal made it even harder for me to talk to Eve because I was afraid I’d slip and she’d find out.  Even still, I expected to have a talk with her about this test later, but I didn’t because she ended up calling Chloe and they went out drinking until early in the morning.

In hindsight, it was one of the only times I’d ever seen Eve get mad.  I thought it was a good sign.  Chloe told me that Eve cried a lot that night, that Eve would say she had to go to the bathroom and then just stay in there and cry until Chloe came and got her.  

She really was suicidal, had just quit her job teaching and started going to a therapist for the first time in her life, just started taking Prozac, and spent three weeks in bed crying and sleeping and refusing to take anything but coffee and alcohol and cigarettes and maybe some soup.  She was a wreck.  On top of that, she and Sam had broken up right before she quit her job, and I think that was one of the things that sent her over the edge.

 

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I asked her why they had broken up.  It was a Sunday morning, and she had just driven back from his house.  They used to work on journalism projects together, and they had been gone all weekend in a small town a couple of hours away from Austin, working on a story together.  She is a pretty good writer too, my sister.  Anyway, she came home early that morning, and I found her on the porch crying and smoking and drinking black coffee.

“Who broke up with who?” I’d asked her, sitting down and lighting myself a cigarette.  We both smoke menthols, the worst kind of cigarette, next to cloves, anyway.  Our mom used to smoke menthols, so that’s probably where we got it from.  She used to give us chrissakes menthols, so I know that’s where we got it from.  Mom’s idea was that we were going to do it anyway, so she might as well help us save our money for college.  I think that was pretty stupid of her.  Anyway, back to Eve.

“I did.”  She got weepy again.

“Why?”  I knew that she loved him.  She had been in love before a couple of times, but I knew that Sam was really her first love (at least to her at that moment).  They had a pretty manic relationship then though, with lots of arguments.  They were both so stubborn and they both really loved to hear themselves talk.  He used to have a pretty nasty temper too; one time, Eve told me that they were fighting in the car on the highway coming back from spending a weekend with my mom and her new husband on their yacht, and Sam had started driving like a madman and refused to pull the car over to let Eve out.  “He actually said ‘Fine, go ahead,’ when I told him I was going to jump out of the car if he didn’t pull it over,” she had howled.

I’m making him sound like the bad guy, though, and in all fairness to him, the thing that sucked the most about Eve was the way she would test everything until it broke.  She didn’t really believe in much, thought that everything was a kind of sham to be exposed.  Especially love.  Sam didn’t get this really, because his parents are still married.  I told him, “Kudos for you, man.” one day, and he just laughed like it was no big deal.  Anyway, those two were nuts: they started talking about marriage and living in foreign countries together pretty much right after they met, so I had just expected it to happen, after they worked the kinks out of their relationship.  

“Why did I break up with him?” she asked me, and she started crying even harder, the kind of crying where you can’t get any air and you start kind of heave-choking.  I tried to calm her down.  When you cry that hard, you can’t talk at the same time.

Finally, she told me.  The way she said it, you could tell that she thought it was true.  Like he had found it on a stone tablet up on Mount Sinai and just delivered her The Word.

“He said I was a negative person.”  She went into another heave-choking jag.

“What the hell does he know about it, the bastard?” I yelled back in her defense. I was pretty good at being angry.  I was probably angry enough for the both of us our whole lives.  Maybe that’s why Eve never learned how to be angry; I was always beating her to it.  

 

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The thing about Eve is that she just takes everything way too seriously.  Some other girl, take me for example, would have laughed it off and shot back some pert witticism, then told Sam arguing was stupid and it would be more fun to go make it in his bedroom, or something.  But then again, I haven’t had many relationships, so what do I know?  You already know how fat I am, but there’s more to it.  I just don’t want anything to get in the way of my writing or my plans.  I want to dig around in the Valley of the Kings, or find the missing link between humans and apes, or something like that.  I want to go to graduate school and travel.  I don’t have time for love.  I wouldn’t mind having a bunch of meaningless sex though, to tell you the truth.  But, like I said, guys want ‘em skinny like Eve, and I think that’s too bad.  She’s a bag of problems, and I’m not.  They don’t know how sexy it is to have a little meat on your bones.  I wish I lived in a time that did.  But then the meaningless sex would be out of the question, and college too.  Maybe meaningless sex isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, anyway.  Look at Eve.

She’s had tons of affairs.  She and Chloe have sex like you wouldn’t believe.  Not with each other, I mean, but with guy after guy.  I think it makes you lose your objectivity.  It would for me, anyway.  I mean, if you can be compatible with so many different people, what’s the point of being in love?    

Anyway, I guess you’re probably wondering who found her up on the roof and all.  Maybe you’re thinking it was Chloe, but it wasn’t.  It obviously wasn’t me, either.  It wasn’t even Sam.  It was this guy we know, named Jeremy.  You want to know something really funny?  It sounds improbable, but I guess real life is.  He went up to the roof because he wanted to commit suicide, too.  See, he’s gay.  And can’t stand it.  He’s younger than us; he’s only nineteen.  The other funny thing about those two was that they clearly didn’t understand much about distances, or they would have known that you can’t jump off a three-story roof and succeed in killing yourself unless you land just right. Or maybe that’s why they wanted to do it in the first place. I have no idea.

 

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Anyway, gay Jeremy went up there drunker than sin and ready to off himself.  He was crying, he told me later, and his vision was all blurry so he wasn’t sure at first if he had imagined Eve up there or if she was actually sitting there dangling her feet off the edge.  He was a pretty decent friend of mine, had been over to the house enough to get to know Eve, had even borrowed some of her lipstick and body glitter too whenever we went out dancing.  He said he was really surprised to see her there, though, because he always thought that she was such a happy person.  Everyone did, until some of us saw her quit her job and go off the deep end.  But Jeremy wasn’t close enough to us to have watched all that.  He said he thought she must have just wandered up there drunk without realizing where she was, or that maybe she just wanted to get some air.  (Yeah, maybe some air time.) He said it must have been a blessing from God, finding her up there.  It snapped him out of wanting to die a little, it sidetracked him.

Apparently, Jeremy had been hospitalized once for slitting his wrists open when he was in high school.  His mom had found him in the bathtub, asleep she thought at first, in pink bubble bath.  When she realized that red stuff was spurting out of his wrists, she had driven him to the emergency room.  He had pretended to be unconscious the whole way because she kept crying and asking “why, why, why.”  That was Jeremy for you, so afraid to be gay that he’d rather be dead.  Sometimes I wish that Eve was gay, because if that’s all it was, Mom and Dad would have accepted it fine.  Okay, Mom would have had a fairly easy time with it.  Dad probably wouldn’t.  I don’t know exactly what her problem is, but it has something to do with making choices and dealing with them.  That’s what she always told me anyway.

Sometimes I think that our problem was foretold in our names. We both had the same English teacher in 10th grade, and she assigned the same project at the beginning of every school year: you had to research the history of your name, and write a paper explaining whether or not you thought your name fit you.  Well, Eve was pretty nonplussed about what she discovered about the story behind both of our names.  You probably already know that Evelyn is a derivation of Eve, the Biblical first woman who was made from Adam’s rib and created to be his subordinate companion, yadda yadda.  So did she.  The story of my name is what tripped her up.  Lillith was Adam’s first wife, created by God before Eve, according to the Torah.  This Lillith was apparently Adam’s equal, and they had an argument over who would be dominant in bed because Lillith didn’t want to lay beneath him.  He tried to rape her, and she left him and swam off into the Red Sea, later to appear as a demon or witch who’d eat infants in the dead of night in popular Jewish mythology, or so the story goes. At the time, Eve wrote that our names didn’t fit us because she thought that the two names represented contradictory forces in the psyche but we were two different people.  But that’s exactly why I think they do fit us.  To a tee.  We are genetically identical, but so different. She fights against being tame but still wants everything to go her way, I fight against being wild but still want everything to go my way. She wants to be tame and wild at the same time. So do I. We want to be at peace with the clash between our ideals and reality.

“I can’t control myself.  I don’t even know what I want.  I picked the wrong job, and I think I knew it the whole time, but did it anyway.  As a sort of endurance test.  I ruin everything, too.  Sam says that he wants me to tell him everything, so he can keep reminding me how normal I am.  He says it’s normal to feel this way.  But I can’t tell him everything because… I can’t believe I cheated on him. What kind of person does that make me? What does that mean about our relationship? I thought I really loved him. If someone could just shut my brain off for awhile, I’d get better so much quicker.  I need a vacation from myself, for chrissakes.”  That’s Eve talking to me over coffee on one of her better days, post-suicide attempt.  

She made me promise not to tell our parents about the “suicide attempt.”  I put that in quotes because whenever she says it she always makes those little quote signs with her hands.  She talks with her hands a lot.  So far I haven’t, told our parents about what she did, I mean.  But I just might have to, if she doesn’t snap out of this soon.  She’s got one more month of paid vacation until the school doesn’t owe her any more back pay; and if she doesn’t get a new job before then I’ll have to tell because we won’t be able to afford our apartment.  

Dad is still paying for me to go to school, which really does hurt Eve, I just found out.  Partially because he kept paying for me even though he wouldn’t pay for her, and partially because I’ve taken more than four years to be in school and she was in and out in three. I suppose she wants me to cut him off on principle, to stick up for her.  I just didn’t see what that would gain me, and I still don’t.  Especially after watching her and Mom struggle so much.  Actually Eve struggled more than Mom.  My mom’s loaded now…She just put her part of the tuition on a credit card.  But Eve had two jobs, and the burden of feeling guilty and being stubborn.  Eve’s the kind of person that doesn’t know how to receive help, kind of like my dad, and she hated the fact that our mom had to help her.    

 

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She used to say that the main reason she wanted to be a teacher was to help kids find their centers before the world shook them up.  She thought that she could help them be strong people, so that they wouldn’t feel such a shock when they got older like she did.   

I think she was a good teacher. I came in one day because she wanted the kids to meet me and for me to show them how I wrote, so they could see a different way of doing things. I watched her with them. She was like the chrissakes Pied Piper.  

Some of those kids’ lives scared me to death.  One of them, a girl, had been sent to juvie because she had punched her mom.  Another one had a rare degenerative muscle disease; he was dying, and happened to be the smartest kid in that class.  One of them had been beaten and molested by her father.  Another guy had a mom who was in jail for selling drugs and he had lived in foster homes since he was ten.  A lot of them were pretty normal though, and funny and sweet.  Some were so painfully shy that they reddened whenever we asked a question to the whole class, as if they were willing themselves to disappear.  I don’t know how she dealt with teaching for two years; I wouldn’t have been able to do it.  

Anyway, we’re all glad she quit, that job was killing her.  All the pressure, all the responsibility.  Even her therapist said that it was probably the hardest job you could get right out of college.  It was just too much for her.  I remember watching her sit up all night grading papers.  Can you imagine having to slog through 120 papers, written by kids who didn’t know how to spell or write a complete sentence or even care?  She told me that in general her students only had a third grade reading level and didn’t know the difference between a noun and a verb.  What was she supposed to teach them anyway, for chrissakes?  And she was one of the ones who cared about what was going to happen to them.  She used to come home, exhausted from the day, pour herself a glass of wine and tell me or Sam or whoever about this kid and that kid and how the system had failed them and how she didn’t know how they were going to get through high school but that they were getting passed on anyway by her principal to make the numbers look good.  She just couldn’t believe it.  We tried to tell her that it wasn’t her responsibility.  Sometimes she cried about those kids.

Last week, her first period class sent her a “get well” card through the school’s secretary.  I found it in the mailbox, didn’t know what it was or I wouldn’t have let her have it, and when I handed it to her she took it into her bedroom.  I came in when I heard the wailing.

It was filled up with their little notes. They wrote to her: “Come back soon, S.O.S.” and “Help, we hate the sub,” and “We miss your laugh,” or “We love you, Ms. S.”  She couldn’t stop crying for hours.  She just sat there and cried and cried.  

I told her to stop thinking about it.  That she was just beating herself up over it, and that didn’t her therapist say that being too hard on yourself is a major aspect of depression?   I had to go to class, I was taking this novella class as an elective, actually it’s the class I’m writing this for, and because it was a workshop class I couldn’t miss it.  I had to leave her there, crying, so that I could catch the bus on time.  I told her to call a friend, go out and do something else, to make herself stop thinking about it.

 

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